Day 18: ‘The essence of “essential”…’

Contributor: Jo:

“Essential – there’s a word of the moment. Of late I have been mulling over what exactly is “essential”? Is it fixed and immutable, or does it depend on circumstances and context?

Thinking back to a training day in the early ‘90s I learnt that the four basic elements ‘essential to life’ are food, water, shelter and air. The last of these is freely available to all; and the second is easily accessible to anyone living in accommodation simply by turning on a tap (unlike in many parts of the world currently, where living through this pandemic must be considerably harder than here.)  Likewise, for those of us on this street, but again sadly not for increasing numbers in this country and elsewhere, shelter is largely a given. That just leaves food as the ‘essential criteria’ to fulfil.

I look up essential in the dictionary. The definition which strikes me as most applicable is “something that is absolutely necessary”.

The government says ‘you may only go outside to shop for essential supplies’, but what does that include? It is then qualified as “groceries and other shopping” – and already the guidance has broader scope than just the basic necessities for life.

Does buying a mascara refill, razor blades or new deodorant actually count as essential? Can I justify sending people out into the dangers of the outside world to visit the shop, or risk warehouse employees picking and packing my goods, simply for ‘beauty products’? I rarely leave the house currently so they are not needed, but they do help with the illusion of ‘normal daily life’ to feel fresh and be ready to face the world.

Is it essential to buy chocolate? (depends on the mood I’m in) or Easter eggs? Can I consider lemons (good for vitamin C, but mainly used for gin and tonic at present) an essential item? What about crisps or biscuits?  None of these is essential for survival, but will certainly make living like this easier; and if I’m shopping for milk and bread anyway, often considered ‘ basic essentials’, does it make a difference if a few less ‘necessary to life’ items make it into the shopping basket?

When we get down to brass tacks, even some of those things we consider totally essential are actually not – we can survive without them. Take toilet paper for example – it is widely publicized that people have been panic-buying and hoarding enough for the next 6 months as an ‘essential’, but as anyone who has used a public toilet will acknowledge – it is frequently a missing item, and yet we all survive!  Furthermore 5 months spent back-packing around India in my distant youth will also testify it is a valuable and luxury commodity to have, but not strictly speaking an essential.

According to official guidance I am allowed outside each and every day to partake in ‘essential’ exercise. However, is going outside for my daily walk strictly necessary when I can do a Zumba class on-line, mangle yoga on my lounge carpet, or cycle on our turbo roller? Some days I think it is essential, as my mental health benefits greatly from seeing a different view, from getting out and about, and I go out. Other days it seems an unnecessary trip out, a risk, and I stick to my inside exercise.

I return to the dictionary, and I find ‘essential’ is also defined as ‘of the highest importance for achieving something’. Many of these items which at first appear less than ‘essential’ in its basic sense, are vitally important in helping us all adjust, adapt, and tolerate the strictures we need to live under currently, and if that helps us all achieve this for the greater good, then I’m all for them.

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